I saw her standing shivering in a doorway. Then I saw the pink felt blanket she wore as a shawl.
Then I saw the giant hooded blanket she wore underneath, the one I had once described as “spangled with star-burst mandalas.” That’s when I realized I had written about this woman before.
I hadn’t seen her since December, when I had stormed out of my apartment on a Sunday night. I had no story for the website on Monday, so had gone into the cold night for a combo story-hunt and pace.
I saw what I described at the time as “a lump of cloth inspiring nothing but a few second glances to check if there really was a person there” sleeping in the doorway of an art gallery on Milwaukee, legs crammed into the lotus position under a pile of pink and star-burst mandalas.
In the window of the gallery, under dangling Christmas ornaments the size of dodgeballs, was a gaudy, capital-A Art statue of a human. In lotus position.
Statue inside, blankets out. Person hiding in the cold and dark, object displayed in warmth and light. A lump of clay formed with care into man.
A person razed by neglect into a heap of blankets.
But now on a Monday morning in January, the blankets had stood up and formed a woman.
There she was, a woman, not a metaphor. There she was, a cold, wet woman standing under an awning, peering up every so often to see if the rain was letting up, wearing the same cobbled-together outfit I had seen her in more than a month before.
I had written in December how I couldn’t tell if she was black, white, woman, man. Now I could see she was a white woman, middle-aged to old with blue-gray eyes that reminded me of my mother’s. Her hair was pale, either gray or fair blond. She must have slept in Sunday night’s ice storm.
I walked right past her to buy myself a coffee and almond croissant.
Don’t worry, the story doesn’t end with glib self-hate. I felt bad and asked the guy at the coffee shop to throw a ham and cheese croissant on my order so I could give it to the lady outside.
She was very nice about taking it and her eyes didn’t have any crazy or hate in them. She came off as kind, pleasantly surprised and rational. She said it was nice of me. I didn’t really think it was, but I didn’t think it was selfish, either. I figured I had the three bucks and I owed her for the art gallery story.
The lady and I said goodbye with no more deep connection than if I had given a better-fed woman a compliment on her outfit. I walked on down the street eating my own croissant, feeling neither good nor bad about what I had just done.